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Boda boda: A ride to the grave

Boda boda: A ride to the grave

By Eriah Lule

On July 4, 2022, Vanessa Kyalimpa, a second-year mass communication student at Uganda Christian University, fell off a boda-boda (motorcycle) while returning to her hostel. According to Vanessa, the rider was trying to dodge potholes until he hit one that saw his passenger fall off the boda-boda.

Luckily, she was bruised with minor injuries to her arms and legs but kept her smiley face.

This wasn’t the story for Mercy Nabwire, the administrative assistant for the school of business. Nabwire narrates that as she was going shopping during the festive season in 2021, all she recalls was jumping in front of the boda and hitting her chubby light-skinned face to the ground. A scar that she will always carry for the rest of her life. According to Mercy, it’s the unprofessionalism that motorcyclists manifest while navigating their rides.

If you paid a courtesy visit to Mulago National Hospital at the Accidents and Emergency Ward, also known as the Causality Ward , you would be left wondering why don’t these riders at least get driving permits or some other safety measures be enforced like other vehicles on the road.

The rusty smell of blood with ‘jik’ and powdered soap, water flowing from the ward, I disguised myself as looking for my patient who had been hit by a boda-boda in the city. On entering the ward, medics moving up and down, emergency zones turning red and off, new arrivals fighting for their lives , others dying on the spot , 65% of boda boda accidents are a true reflection of an open grave.

Two young girls between the ages of  6-7 were dashed in with a slightly younger man about 28 years of age. He was the boda boda rider who ferried these children from school. After reaching the ward, the rider died on the spot as the two children were being attended to. The eldest also died in the process, as I saw the youngest fighting for her life with a smashed leg that was waiting to be cut off. She was sent to the operation room.

Patients cry in all tones, regardless of age or gender; the emergency ward is directly across the hall. Patients on this side were in critical condition. I froze for about 30 seconds till I felt a slap on my back. “Get out of the way, young man,” a nurse instructed, “help us push this bed and then get out, visitation time is over.” 

“I don’t know when the government will ever try to regulate these boda bodas. Most of these patients are boda accident victims,” said one doctor to the other as they ran to the ambulance for another pickup. “It’s midday but this is my fourth pick-up.”

It is after your visit to Mulago that you will conclude  indeed  medical professionals need to be paid well.

In an article written on May 19, 2022, in the Daily Monitor, it indicated that boda bodas were the top cause of road accident deaths. Motorcyclists killed in road accidents have topped annual fatality statistics for the first time in the history of traffic in Uganda. 
Of the 4,159 road accident fatalities nationwide, 1,390 were motorcyclists, while 528 were passengers on motorcycles, according to the 2021 Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety report.

In one of his interviews with the media, the police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, says that police attribute the high number of fatalities and injuries among motorcyclists to indiscipline.

A survey by Uganda Road Fund indicated that only one in every 10 riders received riding training from a professional instructor. All this is happening as Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) is registering Boda Bodas in the city for effective monitoring of their profession.

According to observation, 95% of the university fraternity use boda boda as their means of transport, given the constant factors, but how can we minimize such accidents, which is an open grave we move with every day?

John Muulira, the Chairman of Bishop Tucker Stage in Mukono Central Division, believes that all riders should be registered and get permits like other vehicles for effective control.

“Most of the riders learning today and tomorrow are on the road,” he said. “If most of them go through training, I believe they will be cautious while on the road.”

This has posed a big threat to our profession since it’s a mushrooming industry with semi-skilled and qualified riders who are risking the lives of customers, he added.

Iringa Joan, a social science student at UCU, believes that sometimes it’s the recklessness of the passengers who sit comfortably as the riders are overtaking even in impassable spaces.

“Passengers themselves sit comfortably and are carried like a big bag; they don’t pay attention to the road and how the rider navigates the road,” she said. “Although we pin riders, passengers should be pinned as well to be accountable for their lives.”

Musa Zambu, a motorcycle mechanic in Mukono Central Market, credits this high increased rate of accidents to cyclists who rarely service their rides to meet the road standards.

“Many riders drive motorcycles in poor mechanical condition. This is one of the primary causes of such accidents, “he said. “Many motorcycles need to be parked because they are beyond navigation.”

A clear observation: you won’t fail to notice 2 out of the 5 boda bodas that are in a sorry state but are still ferrying customers even on highways for long distances.

According to Patrick Mugisha, a Safe Boda rider on Jinja Road, he believes that the police should enforce the culture of riders carrying a second helmet for their customers as a protective measure for their safety.

“I have seen such a culture grow among our company,” he said. “Although it doesn’t guarantee an accident, at least it earns us the trust of the customer’s safety.”

Even with the helmet running for 25,000 shillings, many passengers fail to buy them and recklessly continue to board these boda boda due to their efficiency and effectiveness, beating all odds to reach their destination on time given their high risk of an open grave.

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